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Comparative Essay - 'sonnet 18' by William Shakespeare and 'holy Sonnet 10' by John Donne

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During the time of Queen Elizabeth I and her successor King James I, the themes of love, death and eternal life were the main topics of sonnets presented within this era. These themes were often used because they reflect the ideas and attitudes of the time. Both 'Sonnet 18' by William Shakespeare and 'Holy Sonnet 10' by John Donne share similarities and differences in terms of reflecting such ideas and attitudes, in aspects of story and speaker, theme, structure and technique. However, they are more comparable from these main points, yet the sonnets have some differences in them. Both sonnets would be beneficial in introducing year 12 students to poetry of the Elizabeth era.

When considering story and speaker, the poems have a lot of similarities, especially in terms of the overall story about eternal life. However, there are some differences in both story and speaker. For instance, one of the similarities between the two sonnets is that both sonnets refer to death, which is personified. For example, in 'Holy Sonnet 10', "death, thou shalt die" (line 14) suggests that death has the human characteristic of dying. Similarly, line 11 of 'Sonnet 10', "Nor shall Death brag though wanderest in his shade", also refers to and personalises death. When considering speaker, both sonnets have speakers addressing someone. 'Sonnet 10', "Death, be not proud" (line 1) suggests that the thing being addressed is 'death' itself, and 'Sonnet 18', "Shall I compare thee..."; "Thou art more..." etc. The words 'thee, and thou' suggest that someone is being addressed by the poet. Also, the speakers of both sonnets are confident about their verses sticking to their opinions throughout the poem. However, there are also significant differences between the sonnets when it comes to story and speaker. In 'Sonnet 10', the story is religious, "One short sleep past, we wake eternally, And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die" (line 13-14) as the speaker finally puts death behind him and focuses on what it is actually like. Whereas the story of 'Sonnet 18' has more of a relationship focus and therefore has more of a romantic story. Also differing between the sonnets is that, while both poems address someone, 'Sonnet 18' is addressing an unidentified man and compares the young man's power in his youth while 'Sonnet 10' is addressing death, telling death that it is ineffectual and irrelevant because those who die, are able to live eternally. And because of this promise of eternal life, death is the entity which actually 'dies'. It can be seen that while both sonnets reflect ideas and attitudes indicative of their era, and share many similarities in their story and speaker, there are also differences between the sonnets. There are also similarities and differences between the sonnets when it comes to their theme.

Both sonnets contain the theme of eternal life, but do it in different ways. This is shown in 'Sonnet 10' where Donne takes away the power of death (line nine) "Thou art slave to Fate,......". This line takes the power away from death as it explains that it is not death itself which decides who will be killed, but other entities, over which death has no control. This is similar to Shakespeare's 'Sonnet 18', and the way he expresses the concept of eternal life and the power of the sonnet itself (literature); "So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see, so long lives this, and this gives life to thee" (lines 13 & 14). These lines highlight the idea that the sonnet itself, while people can read it, give the subject of the poem eternal life, as he is forever held within the sonnet. But while both sonnets are about eternal life, 'Sonnet 10' has more of a traditional religious focus by talking about the eternal life after death in the more common religious sense, whereas 'Sonnet 18's' theme of eternality is more to do with that of literary fame rather than a religious sense. It is clear that the two sonnets share more similarities in their overall themes of eternal



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